A Sixth of “Stars”

I hadnʼt intended to go ahead with the story so soon, especially as interest seems perhaps to be waning (like the current moonphase), but hereʼs a little more of Stars in Heaven for a Sunday…

When they had started, he had believed that the very task of walking was the worst. Well, not right away, not at the very first. Initially, he had felt a kind of freedom, of pure joy at walking away from home, at going somewhere, at moving but not in the heavy extra skin, the armor, through the starfield—his only opportunity for activity in the previous three months. The harvest had been hell: he had heard Jism and Ghorf and Daniel all say that for years.

The harvest was hell this year. Boy, what a hellish harvest. Helluva harvest, huh? That was pure hell. But he hadn’t understood until it was his turn to join them. He hadn’t comprehended that they had been meaning just exactly what they had said. The harvest was hell. Absolutely and completely. Hell. Hotter than any experience he had ever suffered previously in his hot and miserable existence. Longer and harder and more physically exhausting than any drudgery and beating or chores he had endured before. Up hours before sunrise, only resting during the very hottest tiny wedge of the endless day, and laboring until well after the stars themselves were dancing and churning clearly and brilliantly into the night. Oceans of sweat had filled the outrageous outfit, and yet his arms and legs were bruised and slashed even within the terrible uniform. He now understood why you wanted to be a good boy. He understood hell.

He had been in those fields, in hell, maybe just for three weeks and one day, but he had been there. Yet he had almost yearned for it later. Now, here in this hot place, the sun beating somehow like hidden thunder (but how?) on everything and everyone, but most particularly it seemed on him, the boy thought of the long arduous days in the fields, collecting stars.

The only relief had been the slightly cool jet of air from the respirator across the back of his skull into the helmet…

The attire was peculiar but important. Around home most of the time everybody wore just some kind of pants and a shirt. Except Aunt Sarai. She had her dresses, “cooler,” she always said, “than that get-up you menfolks have to wear. Lets the breezes blow where they may.” But for the harvest, you had to go into the fields themselves, and there was no natural thing as hazardous as a field of stars. The stalks were light as air but hard and sharp as glass or steel (Aunt Sarai used a starflower stem as the blade in her allpurpose kitchen knife: “Ain’t nothin’ to compare, punkun boy”); she could cut anything with that knife. The slightest brush against a starstalk could lay your skin open to the bone—severing muscles and tendons in an instant. That’s how old man Rissvaldt had lost his arm, eye and ear and most of the fingers on his other hand.

No one in his right mind went into a starfield unless enclosed in the protective armor. Helmet, respirator, shoulder pads, arm guards, breastplate, buckler, thigh guards, and the immense boots and gauntlets. Cover all that with the microthin shell skin and you were off to pick stars. Effectively, but definitely not completely, you were encased. Enclosed enough to make it seem as if your eyes and skin were melting within the greygreen contrabulation, but never enveloped sufficiently to avoid at least five or seven nicks or cuts each day.

The thinskin was intended to cover everything, and it was almost impossible to slice or puncture it (“same stuff as some of them satellites, they say”), but nothing was as tough as starstuff and the microshell worked like an oven, even though it was supposed to “breathe” and respire like real skin. In other words, you just had to open it here and there or pull off a glove once in a while or lower a boot while you were out there, to cool off, at least a little.

And then you’d get cut. Didn’t matter how clever you thought you were being or where you were, you’d get cut. Even well outside the starfield: the dust. Each grain of starstuff was a tiny knife, and during the harvest the dust carried on the wind. You hoped for a calm season, even with the dreadful heat.

Worst of all was the helmet and the respirator. You couldn’t remove the helmet, not ever. Your good things were in your head (Ghorf always laughed at that, though the boy never understood why). Your helmet had to stay in place no matter what, no matter how, no matter when. You kept it on even while showering off in the deep night when you were finally quits for that day. And the respirator was even more important. Because of the dust. You had to shun the horrible dust.

I have been writing something other than blog posts lately. So perhaps “Mantorville” fans will get something to whet their curiosity some day soon, too.

I hope the new widget putting the longer writing — fiction and essays — right up on the sidebar is worthwhile.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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